In Minority Report, a futuristic thriller set in 2054, murder has been eliminated in Washington DC thanks to a division of law enforcement known as Precrime. Tapping into the minds of the Pre-Cogs, a trio of psychics who can foresee the future, Precrime is able to track down and arrest would-be killers before they actually commit their lethal deeds. The system appears to be flawless. But when police chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise), the head of this controversial department, is himself accused of the future murder of a man he hasn't even met, he sets out to prove his innocence, all the while hunted by his fellow officers.
Based on a 1956 short story by renowned science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, Minority Report is typical of director Steven Spielberg in how it deftly melds flashy entertainment with critical issues. The movie is made up of three major ingredients: the thrilling action of an innocent man running from the law; the cautionary tale of how good intentions can go astray when not tempered by wisdom (specifically, infringing on people's civil liberties in the name of protecting them); and the old debate of human free will versus pre-ordained destiny. Unfortunately, the movie's philosophical elements take a backseat to John's mundane escape from authorities.
Clearly, I understand that the relentless manhunt is more important than a bunch of metaphysical mumbo jumbo to most people. But without the pre-determined fate aspect, Minority Report is really nothing more than your standard crime drama, complete with cliches ranging from the generic framing of an innocent man to the corruption in the ranks of the police. I'm not asking for a stuffy dissertation that bores audiences like the sterile Solaris--just a comfortable balance that gives a little more substantial acknowledgement to the concept of being able to control one's own future.
As it is, the film only briefly engages the notion of pre-determination intelligently when John debates Precrime issues with Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell), an agent from the Justice Department who has been ordered to find flaws in the system. John's argument of an absolute future is just about the most interesting and thought-provoking moment of the whole movie, although the scene quickly gives way to nonsense that stretches even the boundaries of science fiction (a claim that the Pre-Cogs can only foresee homicides because "there's nothing more destructive to the metaphysical fabric that binds us than the untimely murder of one human being by another" puts an arbitrary importance on human lives). Credibility is further shot when the story dissolves into trite cheerleading that all but says, "You can do it! You control your destiny! Go, John!"
Cruise's frequent failure to convey emotion makes his character of John Anderton less than interesting. We see none of his conviction in the ideas of justice, none of his sense of betrayal when the system turns on him, and none of his paranoia in a suddenly hostile world. In an attempt to elicit sympathy and establish John's dedication to fighting crime, the movie resorts to plot devices so often seen in cop dramas: after the disappearance of his young son six years ago, John has lost himself in drugs and his job, thus resulting in his wife leaving him. His home movies of his son are equally uninspired. Saturated with sappy, artificial sentiment, they should come with a warning label: "Caution: May cause unnecessary and uncontrollable vomiting."
I'll give it credit for one thing: visually, Minority Report is remarkably stunning and imaginative. Its depiction of the future is vivid, highly realized, and full of creative technology. The elegant computer systems are particularly cool, and a concussion gun that Cruise unleashes on his pursuers looks like one hell of a fun toy. And with the cold, metallic colors that dominate the movie, the scenery often conveys a mood that the actors, plot, and dialogue cannot--a mood that is perfectly fitting for a dystopian story with characters who dream of murder 24/7.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)